George H. Whitney

DR WHITNEY, EXIT, STAGE RIGHT

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President Whitney

If the faculty of Centenary Collegiate Institute put their blood, sweat, and tears into the success of the school during its first years, then President Whitney gave the school his whole self – body and soul. For twenty-five years he worked tirelessly for Centenary, even after his health started to fail. It became evident in 1888 that Whitney’s health was being undermined, and in February 1889 came a crisis. In agonizing pain and confined to a reclining chair, the president ran the school with help from his brother, Edward Whitney. This episode lasted 90 days and at the end of April he had a very serious operation. Years of better health broken by short intervals of illness followed. Whitney always worked through the pain, attending events and giving addresses at religious services. An outsider would never have known he was ill.

By March 1895, he made the decision to resign. Commencement that year honored him, and there were meetings, banquets, and receptions where he and his wife were celebrated by friends, students, and townspeople. The Board of Trustees chose Reverend Wilbert P. Ferguson as the next president. President Ferguson would have some big shoes to fill, but, really – how do you follow an act like that?Whitney-Ferguson 2

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THE GREAT FIRE – repost

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

THE SMOOTH COURSE

 

Centenary College, like many other institutions, has gone through times of both success and struggle. Its first 25 years can be counted as a time of great success. It was a source of great pride for everyone who had a hand in its creation.

Smooth Course Class of 1886.jpg

Because the college was a member of a religious conference, yearly evaluations were administered to assess its progress. A committee of members of other conferences and churches would evaluate the college. Year after year Centenary received shining commendations for the high quality of its students, staff, and facilities.

The school received praise from other observers, too. From a June 1891 edition of The Hackettstown Gazette: “The school has been a success from its opening…The faculty is stronger, its standard is higher, its accommodations greater, [and] its facilities better than they have even been, and its graduates are taking rank in the higher educational institutions that reflects only credit upon their alma mater. It has won for itself a prominent place among the education institutions of the land, and holds that place by deserving it.” Everyone who visited the campus came to the same conclusion: the instructors were superior, the students high achieving, and the campus beautiful.

Centenary was made greater by the support of her friends. Alumni and other supporters offered the school gifts that outfitted a library and an infirmary. Monetary donations were also abundant; From 1885 to 1891, the school built (in order) a Ladies’ Gym, Lab Science Building, a new Laundry, ice-house, two summer houses, and a Men’s Gym.

Centenary was quickly filled to capacity and even had several ‘refusing’ years, where there were so many students applying that many had to be turned away. The only complaint about the Institute was that it was too small. Dr. Whitney always refused to expand the building; even though the school was prospering, he knew it wasn’t the right time to grow, and the end of the 1800’s proved him right. In 1893, America was thrust into a financial crisis, culminating in a severe economic depression. Two years later, Dr. Whitney was forced to resign after years of failing health. Finally, in 1899, a fire of unknown origin destroyed the Institute Building.

A weaker institution might have crumbled under these circumstances, but not Centenary. Her spirit was dampened but not extinguished. The early decades of the 1900’s tested the Institute’s perseverance and adaptability, but as always the school overcame its obstacles to enter another era of good times.

 

THE GREAT FIRE

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.

THE FIRE

The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.

THE BUILDING, ENGULFED

At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.

AFTERMATH, INTERIOR

THE RUINS OF C.C.I.

All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.

CENTENARY COLLEGIATE INSTITUTE NEW MAIN BUILDING

The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.

 

 

BUILDING CENTENARY

This is the second in a series of posts about the history of Centenary College, using the book Through Golden Years as a guide. Words cannot express how grateful we are to have this book; we reference it constantly and learn new things about Centenary every time we open it. This information is so important, we wanted to share it with others. We are, first and foremost, a blog about Centenary’s history, and it only makes sense to dedicate our time and attention to a book that teaches us so much about it.

In 1865, two friends took a walk through Hackettstown. They stopped in a cornfield at the top of a hill and had a conversation about the future of the area. Reverend Crook S. Vancleve, a member of the Morristown District of the Newark Conference of the Methodist Church, said he imagined it as the spot where a new institute would be built, and that the man he was talking to would be the first president. Reverend George H. Whitney replied that he had no interest in the proposition. Little did he know just how accurate Reverend Vancleve’s words would be! Nine years later, Centenary Collegiate Institute, located in the exact spot they stopped and with Whitney as the first president, would have its opening day.

Long before the college opened, the name Centenary was chosen for it. The original name was quite long: “The Centenary Collegiate Institute of the Newark Conference, New Jersey.” Chosen by the Newark Conference in 1866, it honors the countless men and women who for a century “labored in the cause of righteousness” (Custard, 6). The next year the college received its charter. That’s why we consider the college to have opened in 1867, even though it’s first real opening day was in 1874.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

The first Board of Trustees. Without them, there would be no Centenary College.

Many sites were considered for the future home of the college, and a committee of newly appointed trustees considered Madison, Morristown, Flanders, Washington, Irvington, Orange, Plainfield and Newark before deciding on Hackettstown. In the spring of 1868, the exact location within the town was selected. The next year Reverend Whitney was appointed the ‘principal’ and given the task of raising money for a suitable building. A building and planning committee was also elected, and they chose an architect and a contractor. On September 9, 1869, the cornerstone of the new institute was laid in place. The event was heavily advertised and attended by many. They gathered in the fields that would soon become roads and lots for houses. According to Whitney’s unpublished autobiography, the town of Hackettstown “had not yet grown as far as the lot” (Custard, 10).  The cornfield of 1865 had grown into the construction site of 1869, but it would be five more years before it became the Centenary Collegiate Institute.

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The view of North Hackettstown, taken from the location of the Institute.

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Description from the back of the photograph. There’s no date, but it was definitely taken between 1869 and 1895. The building was started in 1869, and Whitney was the President until 1895.

 

Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.

Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.